Incoming Cornell University freshman Winston Perez-Ventura drowned while swimming near Fall Creek in Ithaca, New York, on Saturday — only two weeks before he was due to start classes at his dream school.
The 17-year-old from the Bronx, New York, was preparing to begin studies at the College of Architecture, Art and Planning — with hopes of becoming an architect in honor of his immigrant mother.
Cornell vice president for Student and Campus Life, Ryan Lombardi, confirmed the death in a statement, urging students to “seek support as necessary.”
“I write with deep sadness regarding the tragic loss of one of the newest members of our Cornell community. Incoming first-year student Winston Samuel Perez Ventura ’21 drowned Saturday afternoon while swimming in Fall Creek.” he wrote. “He was an exceptional person who would have contributed greatly to our university community.”
New York police were dispatched around 2:30 p.m. on Saturday for a report that a person had entered the water, but never surfaced, police told The Ithaca Voice.
The New York State Dive Team discovered Winston’s body around 7:20 p.m., according to CBS New York.
“The Ithaca gorges are so, so beautiful but they can be very dangerous if folks don’t obey the posted signs,” Acting Ithaca Chief of Police Pete Taylor told the outlet as the search was ongoing. “The signs are in place for no other reason than to keep folks safe when they enter our gorges.”
The teen, who was in Ithaca participating in an on-campus pre-Freshman Summer Program Upstate when he died, made headlines back in December 2016, after footage of his heartwarming Cornell acceptance went viral.
Friends and family — including Winston’s mother Agnelli Gutierrez — gathered around his computer at the time as he awaited a response from his dream school.
And when he got the acceptance email, everyone jumped for joy.
“As an immigrant, sometimes we cannot have maybe so much of a heritage to leave to our kids,” Gutierrez told ABC News at the time. “But education is the main thing that we can definitely get for them.”
“She was crying because she was waiting for that moment,” Winston, who came to New York from the Dominican Republic with Gutierrez when he was 9, told the network of his mother.
A GoFundMe has been set up by friends and family to support the cost of Winston’s funeral.